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In order to understand the contemporary Muslim-West confrontation, which at present is more or less a Muslim-US confrontation, we have to go very far back into history. What we see today on both sides is an accumulated build-up of around ten centuries of confrontation which Muslims see as a one-sided onslaught by western forces on their religion, culture and land.
In the beginning this confrontation started as a religious war, the Crusades. Centuries later it took the garb of the "White Man's Burden" and at present this war is waged in the name of fighting "Terrorism" and forcing "Democracy" down reluctant Muslim throats. Ordinary Muslims all over the world are highly skeptical of the "democracy" slogan. US has been supporting dictators, generals and colonels all over the world of Islam and has tolerated limited democracy if it served western interests. Nullification of Algerian elections in 1992 and the musical chairs in Turkey speak volumes about the West's promotion of democracy. The same West which could not stomach a single military coup in Greece has effected dozens of such shameful events all over the world outside the sacrosanct borders of North America and Western Europe.
Muslim World's relationship with the West underwent three distinct and very painful phases. It started with the Crusades in 1099 which continued unabated till 1369. During the 10 Crusade expeditions, Christian Europe bitterly waged an insane war against Muslim communities along the Mediterranean and beyond, burning, plundering vast lands stretching from Andalus and Morocco to Turkey. Land and sea attacks, including active sea piracy, which continued for centuries, led to the effective impoverishment of Muslim societies in material, social, mercantile, educational and scientific fields. When survival itself was at stake for such a long period who would care about finer points of a civilised existence and development?
No sooner did the Crusades stop1 that a new and equally vicious onslaught under the guise of colonialism started against each and every Muslim country in Asia and Africa and this included the Tzarist expansion in Central Asia and Caucasus. Muslim hold on maritime trade stretching from Venice to the Chinese ports was effectively broken by Portuguese and Spanish pirates who paved the way for other European powers like England, France and Holland to take advantage of the weakened Muslim societies. One Muslim country after another was enslaved and recklessly plundered during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Europe's industrial revolution and resultant prosperity was made possible by plunder of resources and forced capture of Muslim markets.
The colonial plunder of Muslim riches, exploitation of Muslim markets and political repression of Muslim masses continued up to the first half of the Twentieth century when colonial powers, seriously weakened by the Second World War, conceded freedom to the enslaved nations. Some countries, like Algeria, paid a very high price in terms of human life in order to win their liberty. Before enslavement Algeria was so rich and prosperous that French traders owed it huge sums of money and the friction due to delays in repayments by French traders was directly responsible for the French attack and plunder of that country.
Colonial powers did not stop at plunder and repression of our societies. They tried, and to some extent succeeded, in creating a new subservient ruling class moulded in their own image. Moreover, before departing, the colonial powers deliberately inflicted some ever-festering wounds on Muslim societies like delivering Arab Palestine to European Jews, partitioning India and manufacturing many local conflicts, sowing communalism in India through divide-and-rule tactics, illogical division of Asian and African countries including such arrogant episodes as division of Africa by drawing random lines on a table map in the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, Churchill's Elbow which slipped during the farcical creation of an emirate for the Hashemites in Trans-Jordan and the effect still shows in the shape of a sharp bend on the Jordanian-Saudi borders, Kurdish issue, Kabyle (Berber) in Algeria and so on.. Just as Muslims and others rejecting US hegemony are dubbed today as "terrorists", Britain dubbed Muslim freedom fighters in India as "Indian fanatics" and called Mulla Umar, the great Somali freedom fighter, as "Mad Mullah."
There is a serious problem hindering Western-Muslim understanding. Somehow, western historians have erased over a millennium of shining Muslim history during which all kinds of research, innovation and discoveries were made in all fields of human endeavor but in any western school book or history documentaries ancient history spans between 6000 BC and 100 AD. They skip the Muslim era and re-start from the sixteenth century and no one asks where the 1400 years have gone? West will have to revise its history books in order to acquaint its students of the rich Muslim history. Only when this happens no future BBC commentator will dare to say "we owe Arabs nothing."2
Even after independence Muslim countries were not left alone. Old colonial masters as well as the new superpowers, US and Soviet Union (both are western in Muslim eyes), competed with each other for influence in the Muslim world and went about toppling governments and imposing new rulers in order to exploit their resources and use them as pawns in their ruthless quest for world power and supremacy. Both the superpowers supported corrupt and dictatorial rulers and both used the slogan of "democracy" while effectively denying it to their victims.3
It is a popular Muslim perception that West has allowed its allies in the Muslim World to practice various forms of democracy and secularism. In some countries, like Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey, no Islamic political party is tolerated while some other countries like Morocco, Jordan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia allow Islamic political parties within certain limits. Same is the case with "secularism" which has many models in the West as well as in Muslim countries. Even secular organisations working in the fields of human rights and professional and labour unions are barely tolerated in Muslim countries.
Although Islam has always been seen by western scholars and politicians as an obstacle in the face of colonial and imperialist powers and targeted for being a rigid religion which needs change and reform, a new phase of anti-Islamism started after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Hitherto Islam and Muslims were dubbed as "fundamentalists" but soon a new term, "Islamic Terrorism," was coined for Muslims in mid-1980s during the Regan era. Terrorism is found today in every religion and culture but we never come across terms like "Hindu" or "Jewish" or "Buddhist" or "Christian" terrorisms although terrorist groups run by people belonging to these and other religions are active all over the world.4
Some Muslims had willingly allowed themselves to be used by one superpower to fight the other superpower in Afghanistan in 1980s. Now that very same superpower is waging a relentless war against those very same friendly Islamic "mujahidin" it once created and supported with money, arms, technology and training but in the changed scenario after the collapse of the Soviet Union they were branded as "terrorists" and hunted down all over the world, more vigorously since 9-11.5 There is a lot of skepticism in Muslim minds about these tragic events and the common view is that 9-11 was the handiwork of American agencies in which "Muslims" were used. As a Bangladeshi newspaper has noted, "Until 9/11, the distinction between terrorists, murderers and freedom fighters was clear, but now the term terrorist is a one-size garment that fits only the Muslims."6
Afghan Mujahidin and their Muslim supporters had thought that, being allies of the west, they would be helped or at least left to their own devices by the new superpower once Afghanistan was liberated but this did not happen. The new superpower abandoned a devastated Afghanistan to its fate despite pledges to rebuild it after the war, started hunting down "Arab Afghans", clamped sanctions on one country after the other (Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran) while tightening screws against all those who did not conform to US policies of plunder of their natural resources. Rockets were lobbed into Sudan, Afghanistan and Libya at times for simple domestic reasons like the Clinton-Lewinsky affair's various stages. Another important reason for the American thrust was to force Arab countries bordering or actively opposing Israel into recognising the Zionist state. They easily succeeded with Egypt and Jordan. Lebanon, Syria and Saudi Arabia are yet to be brought to their knees while post-Saddam Iraq is being readied to recognise Israel. The next big targets are Syria and Iran. The brave Iraqi resistance has delayed attacks on new targets by the US. Just as America must be the sole superpower of the world and beyond, Israel is to be accepted as the regional superpower of the Middle East. The plans for both these strategies were laid down by a single American think tank.
The Neo-con agenda goes back to 1997, when the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a Neo-conservative think tank headquartered in Washington, issued a "Statement of Principles"7 that lays out the Neo-conservative vision of an international order completely subservient to U.S. economic, military and political interests. At its core, the statement makes clear that nothing less than total, global American military dominance will suffice. The statement was signed by Dick Cheney, who is now vice president, Donald Rumsfeld, now secretary of defence, and Paul Wolfowitz, now deputy defence secretary.
Some basic and reliable information is now readily available which tells us that President Bush and his group were planning a premeditated attack on Iraq to secure "regime change" even before he came to power in January 2001, i.e, well-before 9-11 which provided the pretext for the US to unleash a premeditated plan.8 The blueprint for this attack, calling for the creation of a global Pax Americana, is named "Rebuilding America’s defenses: Strategy, Forces And Resources For A New Century."9 It was written in September 2000 by the same think tank, PNAC. The plan shows Bush's people intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power. It says: "The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."
The PNAC document supports a "blueprint for maintaining global US pre-eminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests". This "American grand strategy" must be advanced for "as far into the future as possible", the report says. It also calls for the US to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars" as a "core mission". The report describes American armed forces abroad as "the cavalry on the new American frontier".
The PNAC blueprint supports a 1992 memorandum written by Wolfowitz and Libby called, "Defense Planning Guidance". It suggested an aggressive, preemptive, and unilateral approach that would "discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role" in the 21st Century and wanted to make sure that America would maintain dominance in the world "by force if necessary."10
The PNAC report reveals worries in the American administration that Europe could rival the USA, that "Iran may well prove as large a threat to US interests as Iraq has" and calls for "regime change" in China. In order to achieve these tasks the report calls for the creation of "US Space Forces", to dominate space, and the total control of cyberspace to prevent "enemies" using the Internet against the US. The report hints that the US may consider developing biological weapons, saying that advanced forms of biological warfare that can "target" specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool".
That same PNAC is responsible for the brutal repression of the Palestinian people which we are witnessing day and night, in utter disbelief, since Ariel Sharon came to power in February 2001. The same Neo-con think tank, with the same set of people like Don Rumsfeld and Richard Perle, had prepared a document in August 1996 at the behest of the then Likud Israeli prime minister Netanyahu to draft a strategy for abrogating the Oslo Accords and overturning the entire concept of a "comprehensive land for peace," settlement in favor of a jackboot policy of U.S.-Israeli raw military conquest and occupation in which "peace for peace" is offered as the only bargain in town. This report is called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm."11 It spelled out the current joint Mideast war strategy of the Ariel Sharon government in Israel and the Cheney cabal inside the Bush Administration.
Netanyahu, and his successor Likud Prime Minister Sharon, totally adopted this report as the core strategy of their administrations. The report chalked out a four-pronged attack on the Oslo peace process and the entire Arab world.
It is a self-evident truth that, since Bush Junior and Sharon came to power almost simultaneously in early 2001, "A Clean Break" has been the guiding strategic doctrine of both the administrations. Bush's total and blind support to Israel's state terrorism falls within a clear framework which has four main tasks:1) Destroy Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, blaming them for every act of Palestinian "terrorism" [i.e., resistance], including the attacks by Hamas, an organization which Sharon had helped launch during his early 1980s tenure as Minister of Defence.2) Induce the United States to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.3) Launch war against Syria after Saddam's regime is disposed of, including striking at Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and targets in Syria proper.4) Parlay the overthrow of the Ba'athist regimes in Baghdad and Damascus into the "democratization" of the entire Arab world, including through further military actions against Iran, Saudi Arabia, and "the ultimate prize," Egypt.12
Today old-style neo-colonialism has given way to a new kind of hybrid colonialism in which the sole superpower will dominate the resources of the whole world, and even outer space, through a string of occupied lands, military bases and allied regional powers ready to toe the line for small benefits to their ruling elites.
Earlier Europeans were fired by religious fervour, then by territorial hunger, or lebensraum, which was justified as "White Man's burden" The effects may be seen in white peoples' permanent occupation of many lands like north and south America, Australia and New Zealand. The new assault is coming in the name of democracy, freedom, human rights, security and fighting terrorism. And by these beautiful words they mean the protection of their own democracy, their own freedoms and their own security and this in effect translates into total denial of democracy, freedom and security to other nations. We can now see as a daily routine how America threatens and attacks other nations, how it holds thousands captive without due process of law in its own overcrowded prisons or even in no-man's land where even the American law does not apply. American at will flouts international laws which other weaker nations are made to abide by. American satraps like Sharon are taking full advantage of the new atmosphere and turning the lives of their enemies and victims into a living hell with no regard for international institutions. Even the International Court of Justice is seen by western powers as irrelevant.
The process of imperialist hegemony is being sugar-coated in the name of "globalisation" while Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations"13 and Fukoyama's "End of History" provide the theoretical prop to the idea of a world ever dominated by America. This has led even Muslim skeptics to say that the struggle with West is not just political but in essence a "cizilisational struggle" in which the religion of each side plays a pivotal role. 14
It is not very long ago when we were told that the world will shrink to become one village, there will be opportunities galore for all countries and nations to compete in a global level playing field. But what has taken place during the past decade is that the movement of our peoples and goods to western countries has almost been stopped on one pretext or the other, while western multinationsls are busy buying off our industries, snuffing out competition misusing their clout and resources and thereby posing a grave threat to our economies and food security. In my own country, tax-evading multinationals have almost taken over key sectors like soft-drinks, automobiles, private television, higher education, courier services, telecommunications, power generation, packaged food and even packaged water. Much more is in the pipeline in the fields of print media and service industry. A fringe of our society is benefitting from this change but the population at large is reeling under growing poverty and unemployment. We do want globalisation but it must not be a one-way traffic to rob our human and material resources which is wrecking our economies.
Another alarming aspect of the new colonial order is the globalisation of fascism. Rightist forces are aligning with each other all over the world. We all know how closely linked the American right, the Zionists occupying Palestine and the Hindutva forces in my own country are. These fascist forces are coming closer, helping and sheltering each other. American monetary and military help to Israel is well known and documented but even Hindutva forces are benefitting immensely from American dollars15 and this has been amply exposed after the Gujarat pogroms. These pogroms were never officially condemned by the American government which thinks and acts as if it is the custodian of human rights all over the world. Unlike Muslim charities in the US which were hastily closed down and their funds confiscated on unsubstantiated charges of supporting "terrorism", there seems to be no American move even to investigate Hindutva charities which preach hate in India and contribute to the outfits active in Gujarat pogroms of 2002 and anti-Muslim and anti-Christian activities.
Now we come to the issue of "Islamic terrorism". Before saying anything about the reasons behind this phenomenon, let me make it abundantly clear that there is no scope in Islam for terrorism and aggression. Islam does allow self-defence and retribution to the extent of wrong done to a Muslim individual or society but it does not allow pre-emptive aggression. I do not defend latter-day Muslim kings and tyrants who were no different from similar non-Muslim rulers of their respective ages. I am talking about the principles of Islam which are well-defined and crystal clear for all times to come. What must be stressed is that whenever Muslims abide by Islam, they do not commit injustice and aggression, they do not fight or invade another country until there is an actual aggression or clear threat to the Muslim state or community. Muslims cannot take over other people's lands only to exploit them or acquire new fiefdoms. A Muslim cannot unjustly take the life of even one innocent person. The Qur’an likens such unlawful killing to be tantamount to killing all mankind.16
There are people in the west who disseminate lies that Islam was spread by the sword, that it believes in forcible conversion of other people, that it teaches its adherents to wage "Jihad" against all non-Muslims. Very authoritative studies have refuted these claims17 but people sometime in very senior positions18 continue to parrot these lies which were manufactured during the Crusades. These were picked up by early orientalists. Although most modern orientalists have now changed their views, pseudo-scholars of the Daniel Pipes19 ilk keep repeating these lies.
These lies are spread due to a gross misunderstanding of Islamic texts and utter ignorance of Islamic history. The Qur’anic verses about Jihad and Qital against non-believers refer only to a certain period in Madina when the Prophet, his companions and the fledgling state of Madina, were threatened by the kuffar of Arabia. The Qur’anic injunction to fight kuffar is expressly and specifically about those enemies of Arabia who were hell-bent on snuffing out Islam during the Prophet’s time. Jihad, meaning struggle and self-defence, will continue to the last day of human life on earth but Jihad meaning qital, or fighting, will be legitimate only when a Muslim country or society is physically threatened or invaded. There is no room in Islam for worldly conquests of the kind Alexander and Napoleon made and in the present time America is trying in order to dominate even outer space and plunder the world's resources for ever.
There seems to be no serious effort in the west to understand the underlying causes for the current anger against the US and Israel all over the world, especially among Muslims. Instead the thrust is on how to fundamentally "change" Muslims and Islam so that they stop seeing what is staring them in the face. The effort is to snuff out dissent by force, stop imams delivering sermons freely, change curricula and textbooks in Muslim countries, close down madrasahs, take over mosques, launch a barrage of propaganda through foreign radio, television channels and magazines, some directly run by American agencies, while thrashing alternative sources like Aljazeera into submission by threatening to put them on the terrorist list.. Even Al-Azhar of Egypt was threatened to be placed on the American black list if it did not revoke fatwas by its mufti which said that the resistance in Iraq against foreign occupation forces is a legitimate Jihad, which in fact it is.
America of late has gone through the motions of attempting to understand Muslim anger. A semi-official committee headed by Edward P. Djerejian, a former State Department official, failed to discover the obvious truth. In a self-deluding report20 presented on 1 October 2003, he managed to discover that American diplomacy has let down America, that America has to allocate a bigger budget for diplomacy. The report fails to suggest any substantial policy changes while the ground reality is that the present American plight is a direct result ("blowback" in CIA jargon) of American terrorism and thuggery all over the world, blind support to Israeli occupation, state terrorism and daily routine of massacring hapless Palestinians, support to dictators all over the world, inclination to work outside the UN framework including efforts to nullify the International Court of Justice, pushing for open markets abroad while closing down avenues of outsourcing and foreign business in its own country and so on and so forth.
Somehow it is expected of Muslims to react differently when attacked, insulted, occupied, raped and robbed. They must show magnanimity, bow their heads and prostrate in front of their tormentors in order to be praised as "decent" and "civilised" people. If Muslims react as normal people do in other parts of the world, they are barbarians, terrorists and unpredictable fanatics. Normal reaction is reserved these days for people outside the pale of Islam. The world understands and even tries to assuage feelings of non-Muslim victims and makes visible efforts to remove irritants to a sizeable population anywhere in the world. But Muslims deserve only bullets and rockets and daisy cutters if they even think of standing up for their fundamental rights. This is what you see day in and day out in Chechnya, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq to name a few places on this planet. West has been consistently supporting the wrong people in Muslim societies like Taslima Nasrin, Rushdie, Abu Zaid, Nawal Saadawi who do not represent Muslim societies and having chosen to divorce it cannot influence it in any way.
It is very doubtful that brutal tactics, whether in Kashmir or Gujarat or Palestine or Iraq, will ever win the hearts and minds of the victims. These tactics turn even ordinary and decent people into militants and terrorists. Denied justice every victimised human being turns into a kind of uncontrollable beast after a flagrant outrage like the Gujarat pogroms or Gaza killings or Chechnya21 massacres.
It is a living proof of the great maturity and faith of the vast majority of Muslims around the world that they have more or less refrained from the path of revenge and violence while the tormentors play with fire and continue to provoke the victims and their sympathisers. Muslim masses around the world are seething with rage. Muslim religious leaders, writers, community elders are trying to control the rage but for how long?
Islam does not teach terrorism and no Muslim is a born terrorist. No Muslim mother teaches her child to go out and kill someone or himself. No madrasah teaches terrorism in any form whatsoever. It would be rather fair to say that madrasah education instills submission and cowardice. Madrasah graduates do not head or even participate in militant organisations.
The number one issue which agitates Muslims all over the world against the west, in general, and the US, in particular, is Palestine which represents a rare case of settler-colonialism where a Muslim homeland was allowed by Britain to be colonised and later taken over by aliens from all parts of the world who resorted to killing or expelling most of the population to neighbouring countries where the victims still live in refugee camps while Jews from any part of the world enjoy an "automatic" right to "return"22 to what is not their legitimate country.. Even the remaining 22 percent of Palestine which the Arabs had managed to retain in 1948 when Israel was born blood-soaked over the dead bodies of Palestinians in massacres like Deir Yassin, was occupied during the 1967 "pre-emptive strike" by the Israelis. The "peace-loving" Israelis had started a war in which they occupied vast stretches of Syria, Egypt and Jordan including the remaining parts of Palestine and East or Arab Jerusalem thanks to blind American military and political support. Israel grudgingly evacuated parts of those lands as a result of the Ramadan or October war of 1973 but kept the Palestinian lands as well as parts of the Syrian Golan Heights as it faces no real pressure to evacuate. Israel has one of the largest stockpiles of WMDs in the world but the focus is on hapless Muslim countries.
WMD is a big issue these. Those who own the biggest stockpiles of WMDs, including Israel, are most concerned that others should not own them. Nuclear weapons, they say, in our hands contributes to global security, nuclear weapons in your hands contributes to global insecurity. But neither Pakistan nor India or Iraq or Syria or Iran ever dropped a Napalm or a nuclear bomb on anyone. Western powers killed close to a hundred million people during the First and Second World wars23 and more recently over 600,000 children died in Iraq as a direct result of UN-imposed sanctions on the pretext of Saddam owning WMDs which has now been proved a hoax.
The World of Islam will never feel at ease until the historic injustice of Palestine is removed and a solution acceptable to the Palestinian victims is found. Total and blind American support to Israel and the American policies in the rest of the world generate a lot of ill-will which in turn bursts up as terrorist activities by a tiny minority of Muslims. It is time the US thoroughly revised its policies and started treating the World of Islam with justice, fairness and equity. Muslims want the US to practice what it preaches. Terrorism will evaporate the day America realises its follies and corrects its course and presses for real democracy and freedom in Muslim countries. America will become the best friend of Muslim masses just as it was in the wake of the First World War when Arabs of Syria and Palestine pressed for an American mandate instead of French and British mandates.
There is a lot of scope for dialogue and understanding for a common good with Europe, which has shunned colonial and imperialist aspirations, but I personally doubt if such an exercise will have any meaning with an intoxicated US in the near future.
A symbolic beginning may be made with an European and Church apology for the historic wrongs done to Muslims. The Pope has issued many apologies except to Muslims who were the worst victims of the western Church starting from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the present-day assaults on peripheral Muslim societies in Asia and Africa which are earmarked for christianisation.
Europe feels a lot of justified and understandable guilt about Jews but there is no word of regret, remorse and apology to Muslims who suffered long at the hands of Europeans for centuries. Morevoer, while Jews were somehow tolerated in Europe, Muslim minorities living in European countries were systematically purged and today we have no traces of the flourishing old Muslim communities in Sicily, South Italy, Andalus, South France, Majorca, Manorca, Pantelleria, Malta, Canary Islands etc. They were forcibly baptised or killed or expelled from their homelands.
The World of Islam is ready for a real dialogue with the west. Indeed dialogue is continuously taking place in some form or the other in many places and at various levels but it somehow aims at making Muslims "change" themselves and their faith. There is little or no effort to understand Muslim grievances (let alone redressing them) and the real teachings of Islam which abhor terrorism and teach peace and co-existence.
Until such a change takes place and Muslim grievances are heard and recognised and a genuine effort is seen to be made to understand and accommodate Muslim points of view and redress festering wrongs there is little hope that any dialogue will ever succeed. In my humble opinion a dialogue may succeed only with the Europeans at present although French fundamentalist secularism is casting heavy shades of doubt on such prospects. Europe has cast away its colonial fantasies. Any dialogue with the US is not likely to bear fruits until it comes out of the spell of its current manufactured rage which is being exploited in the name of fighting terrorism and forcible democratisation while the real aim is to extend and strengthen Pax Americana. Like Soviet Union, Uncle Sam will continue on this insane course until a great shock restores sanity to America like the collapse of communism did to Russia.
Paper presented at The International Conference
on the Islamic World & Europe-from dialogue towards understanding,
Beirut, 17-19 February 2004
Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan is Director of The Institute of Islamic & Arab Studies, New Delhi and is editor of The Milli Gazette (Fortnightly Newspaper), Muslim India (Monthly Journal) & Muslim & Arab Perspectives journal. He may be contacted at zik@VSNL.COM
The Institute of Islamic & Arab Studies
P.O. Box 9701, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi 110 025 India
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